Some bloggers are in a flap at the moment because Google has seemingly manually downgraded the PageRank of some websites. The reason appears to be that the websites in question sell paid links.

Some of the websites in question are pretty big. Washington Post, Engadget, Weblog Tools Collection, Joystiq, Problogger.

This blog also sells text links, although I don’t think I’ve been hit by Google’s bitch-slapper. My PageRank at the moment is 5, which I think is what it was before. I don’t actually know, because I don’t really care about my PageRank as much as, say, my Technorati authority or the number of visitors.

Anyway. There are text link adverts on this blog. I was aware that the people who were buying the links were almost certainly more concerned about “buying” a better ranking on Google than something such as click through rates or trying to reach out to the readers of this blog.

But I hate to see junk results on Google, for sure. But do I feel guilty about selling links that contribute to this? No. It is individually rational for me to sell these links, despite the fact that I detest the method.

Why? Because if I am selling the links, I make money from them. If I am not selling the links, Google results are still equally junky because so many other people are doing the same thing. So I have two choices. Either I live with junky Google results and make no money, or I live with junky Google results and make some money. It’s a no-brainer.

Funny, though, how the changes leave Google AdSense completely unaffected! What a coincidence. When you look at how Text Link Ads (probably AdSense’s only real competitor) has been penalised to hell by Google, it begins to look like hypocrisy at best and a powerful Google using its might for “evil” means at worst.

However, it is understandable if Google takes a hard-line stance. They strive to have the best search engine on the internet, so of course they will do everything in their power to stop the “sale of PageRank”.

Their latest moves probably change the landscape a bit. It might put some advertisers off, but I doubt it will put any webmasters off. For as long as the webmasters make one penny more by selling adverts than by not, they will continue to sell adverts.

Of course, the reduction in PageRank could mean fewer people visiting via Google’s search engine. But I doubt many webmasters will be licking their wounds over that. From my point of view, for sure Google accounts for about two thirds of visitors to this website. But that is the least valuable two thirds (I don’t mean ‘valuable’ in monetary terms here, I mean in terms of their contribution to the website).

People who visit this website via Google view fewer pages than an average visitor. They are more likely to take one look at one page and then swiftly leave, never to be seen again. They spend an astonishing 30% less time on this blog than the average visitor. According to Rhys, he gets hardly any visitors from Google in the first place.

So if my PageRank takes a battering, I won’t be too bothered about it. Because Google provides none of the things that I value about blogging. Regular visitors are more likely to come via a link on another blog. And the best comments come from regular readers rather than the flash-in-the-pan visitors who might leave personal abuse then exit and forget all about this blog.

Come to think of it, I am the same when I use Google. I never expect to find the best websites by going to Google. If something is worth reading, I am likely to hear of it by word of mouth, either by reading other blogs or via links from my friends on Delicious, or whatever.

Meanwhile, if I want specific information, I am much more likely to search for it on Wikipedia rather than Google. Wikipedia might not be 100% reliable, but Google’s reliability is surely even worse. If I want a primer on any topic, Wikipedia usually gives me what I want.

What’s more, the links on Wikipedia are usually more relevant. Spam links are swiftly removed by the community of users. How many times has Wikipedia led you to a link farm compared to Google?

If I want information on a band I go to either Last.fm or Discogs. If I want to look up a word I use either Dictionary.com, Chambers of Urban Dictionary. Etc, etc. I know I still sometimes use Google, but what for? I can’t remember the last time I used Google search as anything except a last resort.

7 comments

  1. My educated-but-without-required-knowledge guess about this would be that, rather than being anti-competitive, Google is trying to right its own algorithm. The Google algorithm (basically) treats links from one site to another as a recommendation, and being able to grab “recommendations” from top sites just by buying ads could artificially inflate an advertiser’s SiteRank, since Google can’t distinguish between legitimate links and ads.

    This could also, of course, be fixed with rel=”nofollow”, but it seems unlikely advertisers would be happy about this.

    Just a guess. Ranking down Text Link Ads’ main page seems not to follow this model, though.

  2. Also, on the latter part of the comment, Google is incredibly handy if you actually need reference on something (rather than just a high-level overview as you’d get on Wikipedia). Specific problems (particularly in my domain, being a computer guy) are made infinitely easier to find and solve.

    And let’s follow this up with a quote which puts across the sort of change in emphasis on search that you describe, from Google’s Amit Singhal:

    Search over the last few years has moved from ‘Give me what I typed’ to ‘Give me what I want’

  3. Right on the money Duncan. The only thing I wonder about is the incredible power that Google has to play God.

  4. CC is right, far too much power now and we all know what power tends to do.

  5. Just checked my PR which had been a 4 up until this week. Surprised to find it’s dropped to a 2 within the last few days. i have no paid text links or similar. I wonder if they are ranking blogs differently now?

  6. I’ve dropped to a PR3 blog. Which ironically is the page rank of Youtube now :)

    I don’t really follow too much of Google, but I believe they think that bloggers have too much power in themselves, so are trying to cripple them financially.

    Doesn’t bother me, I’m still okay, but I know a bunch of people who still rely on page rank.

    Think with this, and supporting a browser that blocks it’s main source of revenue in 2-3 clicks, google are trying hard to shoot themselves in the foot.

    Would be interesting to see what’d happen if every single link on the internet became nofollow :)

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